My shop was a dream come true.
Although antiques could be quite profitable, the demand for them in our small city fluctuated wildly. The cycle of feast and famine forced me to practice careful frugality and diligent saving. Still, I was able to make a living.
Truly, though, it was my love for things from the past that made the venture worthwhile.
I love the sense of an object's history. I can almost feel it when I hold those relics in my hands. Things that have endured for generations seem to have a spirit of their own.
What stories they might tell if they could speak.
My expertise was renown, not that it brought me much business, but I had a few steady customers that would pop in from time to time. It was one afternoon as I sat quietly going over my books that Ms. Cadbury came in.
She was a regular. Some might say that she belonged in an antique shop herself. She was the classic old maid, though still quite striking despite her years.
When I first met her, I wasn't sure what to think about her. She seemed refined, with an air of disaffection that often marks the more privileged among us. Her eyes surveyed my wares critically, as though searching for the cheap baubles that sometimes stand beside the genuine article.
I suppose she was looking for a reason to dismiss me and my shop, but as she made her way around the shelves and tables, the quality of my goods won her over.
She didn't purchase anything, but there began a friendship between us. I looked forward to her visits, having long conversations about history and the objects around us. She made a welcome distraction from the long and lonely hours that usually occupied my time.
As I worried over the books, I was glad to hear the bell and see her enter. We shared a smile and I think we both noticed lines of worry in each others face.
We had a long conversation, and we finally spoke freely, as friends.
The subject of my business troubles was broached.
“I think you've done quite well,” she informed me, “Especially considering how few people in this city are capable of appreciating what you do.”
Her praise meant more to me than mere lip service. I could see that we were kindred spirits, united in our appreciation of those things made finer by time.
As to her worries, I was not given much of a clue. I was, however, given a marvelous opportunity.
She wanted my help in cataloging and appraising her collection of antiques.
“It will require some time,” she warned, “and I would prefer you devote yourself to it.”
In fact, she wanted me to temporarily close the shop to live and work at her home. The thought was tantamount to admitting failure in business, but her generous offer was not half as appealing as the chance to peruse her collection.
The size of her collection was something of a legend among my other regular customers. That she was wealthy was common knowledge, and her knowledge of the little treasures I peddled marked her as well versed in the subject herself.
That combination made for an irresistible lure.
I made arrangements to have the shop watched over and drove to the outskirts of the city. The low, smooth mountains were occupied by some of the most exquisite homes to be found in our region. But hers was gem beyond compare.
It was a mansion.
Towering up among the ancient pines, it was a breathtaking marvel. Columns rose seemingly up to the heavens. Attached to the main hall, massive wings slipped back into the forest. The grounds were immaculate, surely tended by an army of keepers.
I felt small, dirty, and common as I gazed up wide eyed and likely open-mouthed. I felt ashamed to sully this place with my presence.
But there was also something forgiving in the air. Perhaps the house, being as old as many of the treasures I loved, could sense and reciprocate my fondness.
The grand exterior should have prepared me for that step inside, but again I was awestruck. The fine details were so numerous that I was overwhelmed. I was grateful that it took my hostess some time to receive me.
It may have been the sheer size of the rooms, but the place felt empty. The staff seemed too scarce, disappearing down long hallways, swallowed by great doors. There was a certain sense of loneliness, of stillness.
Perhaps I felt welcomed by the countless beautiful features that would otherwise languish alone. As I waited, I could not help from wandering the vast room admiring the timeless beauty around me.
Faintly, I thought I heard the sound of a woman's angry voice. I feared my arrival was inopportune.
But my hostess, who emerged though a gigantic wooden door, was shedding her angry expression even as she entered the room. It was unsettling how quickly her features changed, but I was content to receive her pleasant aspects, rather than the former mood.
She was much like the house, aged and refined, far beyond the means or tastes of most. Also like the house, she seemed empty and lonely.
A room had been prepared, and when I saw the splendor therein I could hardly believe my eyes. Still, we could not resist a peek at the work that awaited.
I knew the task was a daunting one, treasures were found everywhere around. But even the countless gems on display paled in comparison to the wonders she kept locked away.
Furniture and figurines, coins and china, books and documents of incalculable rarity, I stood in what was the finest collection of antiquities I have ever seen. Many museums would do well to have a fraction of the wealth that she had gathered.
I was speechless, but my expression convinced her she had the right man for the job.